Fact Check: Lincoln High's Bad Rap - Voice of San Diego

Education UNVEILING THE UNSEEN

Fact Check: Lincoln High's Bad Rap

A national outlet called Lincoln High a charter school where on-campus assaults happen “almost daily.” It’s not, and they don’t.

FalseStatement: “At one San Diego public charter school, assaults on campus involving mostly black and Hispanic students occur almost daily,” wrote Vicki E. Alger, an education researcher, in a story for the National Review.

Rating: False

Analysis: Lincoln High School’s reputation might be its worst enemy.

Since it reopened with a new campus in 2007, Lincoln has struggled to “rise like a phoenix,” as a former principal once put it, from a disappointing past. The school has turned over leadership and hemorrhaged students. Students struggled to raise their test scores higher than the district’s bottom rung. Lincoln has been portrayed as a place that is simply unsafe to send kids.

A lot of those are valid concerns. Numbers bear out the students who’ve struggled academically and those who have left the school. But some of what’s attributed to the school simply isn’t accurate.

Last month, National Review published a story arguing that softening school discipline policies will likely result in more dangerous schools – places where black and brown students aren’t held accountable for bad behavior and assaults occur on a near-daily basis.

The article’s author, Vicki E. Alger, is a fellow with the Independent Institute, a non-partisan education think tank, and author of a forthcoming book on the history of the U.S Department of Education.

The thrust of her piece was that by focusing on racial disparities in school discipline rates, the federal government is implicitly discouraging schools from punishing black and Hispanic students. Eventually schools give these students a pass for bad behavior, she argues, thus making them even more dangerous.

Here’s a section from the piece:

“Several California school districts that adopted similar quota-based discipline “remedies” are coping with increased violence. At one San Diego public charter school, assaults on campus involving mostly black and Hispanic students occur almost daily. Similar tales of chaos and violence are playing out in school districts from Los Angeles to Oakland, where minority students know they now have free reign to threaten and hurt others. The worst consequence they may have to face is a meeting with a “restorative justice” counselor.”

In the story, Alger doesn’t name the San Diego charter school, but told me through an Independent Institute spokesman she was referring to Lincoln High School.

First, Lincoln isn’t a charter school – it’s a traditional public school. So that’s a strike.

But putting that error aside, Alger passed along a few articles to support her claim that assaults occur at Lincoln on a near-daily basis.

One of those was a story from KPBS about rising crime at San Diego schools. A former principal was quoted as saying that drugs, violence and gang activity were constant threats at Lincoln High. That story, however, was published in 2010.

An editorial from Investor’s Business Daily claimed that Minnesota was adopting race-based discipline policies that looked a lot like state-sanctioned reverse racism. Here’s how Lincoln was depicted in that story:

“Take San Diego. Just weeks after adopting similar racial discipline quotas, San Diego public schools have witnessed an explosion of violent assaults.

At its premier charter school, Lincoln High, students report daily fights now, mostly involving black kids. In the past month, there have been several arrests, including one involving a butcher knife, according to local reports. Victims have been hauled off by ambulance.”

Again with the charter school claim.

Alger shared one more story, an Oct. 4 piece from Channel 10: “Student: Daily fights at Lincoln High School have created atmosphere of fear.”

The claim that assaults happen every day was attributed to one Lincoln sophomore, identified only by first name, whose face wasn’t shown on camera.

None of the three stories Alger shared with me to defend her claim included any actual statistics about assaults or fights happening daily at Lincoln High. Anecdotes are one thing, but for Alger’s claim about near daily assaults to be true, the numbers should support it.

I asked the school district for data on assaults recorded at Lincoln so far this school year. As of Dec. 17, there were 16 batteries and no assaults, the two categories the district generally uses for fights.

Sixteen cases of battery is a concern and worthy of exploration, but it doesn’t come anywhere close to the claim that assaults occur on a near daily basis. Alger’s story was published Dec. 3. By then, there had been about 60 days of school, meaning that, at most, fights at Lincoln happen roughly every four days.

Even if you allow for fights Lincoln staff might have not been heard about or ones that happened off campus, the official number isn’t close enough to back Alger’s claim.

In this case, a national outlet seized on a narrative about a troubled school, and Lincoln was held out as a cautionary tale of what could go wrong when a district tries to recalibrate its approach to discipline.

The problem was, Alger’s facts weren’t sound. She claimed assaults happened “almost daily” at a school later determined to be Lincoln High. They don’t. That makes her claim false.

If you disagree with our determination or analysis, please express your thoughts in the comments section of this blog post. Explain your reasoning.

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